Much has been written about the Obama administration’s early commitment to create a more open and transparent government. In May the White House announced the Open Government Initiative, whose mission is to make all of government more open.

Yesterday, in a move watched closely by many in the civic participation field, the administration released the Open Government Directive. (pdf)

OG (Open Government) gang sign by Flickr user joebeone

OG (Open Government) gang sign by Flickr user joebeone

The Open Government Directive is the result of much internal work as well as comments from people across the transparency and civic participation fields. It contains the basic instructions to every agency for how they are to comply with the overall mandate of “being more open.”

The basic mechanism is that each agency must create a web space (“someagency.gov/open”) that is devoted to the Open Government Initiative. At this “/open” site, the agency must house at least three high-value datasets that are not now available.

The timeline for all this is (thanks Intellitics for this ):

  • Within 45 days: establish a working group that focuses on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government. …
  • Within 60 days: create an Open Government Dashboard on www.whitehouse.gov/open.  The Open Government Dashboard (to include each agency’s Open Government Plan, aggregate statistics and visualizations)
  • Within 120 days: each agency shall develop and publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities.

Of interest: According to Politico, “Each agency [also] will be required to post its annual report to the Justice Department on Freedom of Information Act requests, including the total number of requests granted and denied and the reasons given for the denials.”

While the move was applauded by the transparency community (for instance, the policy director of the Sunlight Foundation referred to it as “enormous,” and indeed the list of commitments from agencies when it comes to transparency is already impressive), many in the civic participation field are less sanguine.

“I was underwhelmed,” wrote Fielding Graduate University professor emeritus W. Barnett Pearce in a post to an influential mailing list run by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. “[I]t seemed very much like the ‘town hall meeting’ concept – the government shows/tells/lets us look on the website to see what they are doing, and then we can line up for our three minutes/send in our comments to their email inboxes or a listserve.”